10/03/08 9:51 PM ET
Cubs better equipped to rally than Crew
Chicago can benefit from Harden, escaping pressure of home
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
So while the chances are slim at both ends of the I-94 baseball corridor, there's more reason for hope on the Illinois side than the Wisconsin side. The Brewers are coming home, but the Cubs are still in better shape.
Yes, Chicago dropped two games at home, and now has to go on the road, sweep two from a hot Dodgers team at Dodger Stadium, then come back and finish things off at Wrigley Field. Milwaukee at least gets to come home on Saturday, playing in front of what will surely be a frenzied crowd -- a stadium full of fans who haven't seen playoff baseball in 26 years.
But more important is the fact that the Cubs send two excellent starting pitchers to the mound in the next two days, including arguably their best hurler in Rich Harden. The Brewers, meanwhile, already used one of their aces, CC Sabathia, and they're without Ben Sheets for the rest of the year. If momentum is tomorrow's starting pitcher, the Small Bears surely have more of it than the Brew Crew.
"We set up our rotation this way," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "Harden is a really, really good pitcher. [Ted] Lilly has been throwing the ball for us as well as anybody lately. We have him set up for Game 4. And then in Game 5 we've got [Ryan] Dempster. We've got [Carlos] Zambrano. They can both pitch in that particular ballgame if necessary."
Prior to the Cubs and Brewers, 54 teams have lost the first two games of a best-of-five series. Seven of those have come back to win the series. Those aren't good odds -- but they're better than the one-for-all-time for a team that loses the first three of a best-of-seven.
To win the series, each team will first have to win Game 3. By that score, at least, the Cubs are in better shape. It's true that Milwaukee is coming home, and it's true that the Brewers punished left-handed pitching this year. But Jamie Moyer isn't your typical lefty, and he's shown virtually no platoon split this year.
Meanwhile, Game 3 starter Dave Bush matches up poorly with the Phillies. Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell, Greg Dobbs, Matt Stairs, Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz all have histories of success against the Milwaukee right-hander. It's hard to say the Brewers are favored to win on Saturday, which means it's very hard to give them much more than a puncher's chance at winning three straight.
"You can't think about Game 5," acting Milwaukee manager Dale Sveum said. "You can't think about Game 4. You've got to win Game 3 any way you can."
Home field is surely an advantage for the Brewers, though less so than for many other teams. Milwaukee's 49-32 record at home is sixth best of the eight playoff teams. And on the other side, there's some notion that perhaps getting away from Chicago will do the Cubs good. That's hard to envision for a team that went 55-26 on its own turf this year, but it's at least become a talking point on sports radio in Chicago.
"I'm a believer that in postseason, when you play at home, there's a lot of pressure on you to play well and win," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "You're supposed to win. ... Probably these guys had to deal with a lot of pressure. I mean, pressure aside from the game pressure. That's the whole trick.
"But I think getting away certainly, certainly can't hurt them. I think the biggest problem for them right now is they're down two games to none. But I don't think it's necessarily a negative going on the road for them."
Neither club has played well thus far, not only losing but shooting themselves in the foot with shoddy defense and poor offensive execution. Both will need to turn it around, and there's reason to think the Cubs have a better chance than the Brewers. Simply put, Chicago did those things better in the regular season than Milwaukee. The Cubs are a good defensive team that had a bad defensive game. The Brewers aren't a good defensive team.
And in the end, that's the key here. In nearly every facet of the game, the Cubs are a better team than the Brewers. Their starting pitching is better, and it's better aligned. Their offense is better, and their offensive balance is surely better. Their bullpen is better.
When in doubt, take the better team.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.